Wannabe American Apparel employees must have “full body, head-to-toe” photos approved before hiring, according to an investigation by the gossip blog Gawker. Managers send photos to some unknown higher-level employee, where the pics are approved or denied. A source has told Gawker that American Apparel has a new hiring policy where physical attractiveness — under the guise of “personal style” — now takes precedence over retail experience.American Apparel has long been accused of look-ist hiring policies. In July 2009, an American Apparel manager told Gawker that the company’s CEO, Dov Charney, made managers nationwide take “group photos” of employees:
“… so he could personally judge people based on looks. He is tightening the American Apparel ‘aesthetic,’ and anyone that he deems not good-looking enough to work there is encouraged to be fired. … Dov wants to weed out the ‘ugly people.’”
Now, that was just one manager’s report. Perhaps we could have shrugged it off as sour grapes. American Apparel’s creative director, Marasha Brady, told NYmag.com’s The Cut blog in August 2009 that the company only “screens” for “personal style.”
But after an initial post on June 9 about the company’s new hiring policy, Gawker heard from more ex-American Apparel employees. One former manager screengrabbed new hire scouting guidelines straight from the company’s intranet and another recent ex-employee sent them the first four pages of the company’s hiring contract. And it’s a lot worse than we could have imagined.
According to the intranet instructions, while taking photos of potential hires, managers are instructed to include a head-to-toe body shot and a close-up of the face. As for capturing personal style, managers are told “details are important, make sure you catch as many as you can.”
The American Apparel contract, which instructs employees on how to dress “on brand,” is mind-boggling. Employees are very specifically informed the company’s style is “classy vintage chique late-80s early 90′s Ralph Lauren Vogue nautical high-end brand” and that they’re “heading in a more sophisticated, expensive, classy direction.” (You mean their “Best Bottom in the World” contest wasn’t classy? You don’t say!) Employees are even instructed what kind of footwear is permissible. OK shoes include vintage shoes, vintage heels, and “white Keds as long as they’re impeccably clean.” Verboten footwear includes Converse, Doc Martins, Vans, and moccasins.
Now, I’ll admit the sartorial guidelines isn’t the craziest news in the world. After all, a lot retail companies — Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters come to mind — have an “image” they want their employees to project. I applied for a part-time job at Urban Outfitters a few years ago and made it through a couple rounds of interviews, but I apparently flubbed up when they asked me to describe my personal style. I said “thrift store WASP.” They said, sorry, no thanks, why don’t I apply at Anthropologie (their sister company) instead. I thought that seemed reasonable. But American Apparel actually stipulates which brands employees must wear. That’s way more intense than the Gap asking employees to wear Gap clothes, for example.
American Apparel’s practices, especially their hiring practices, sound to me like straight-up looks discrimination. And if discriminating based on looks hurts your average, slightly pudgy Caucasian Joe Schmo wearing scuffed-up Converse, it’s a double bind for applicants of color or plus-size applicants. One former American Apparel employee wrote an essay for TheGloss.com about how she was employed by the company for a short while and was even training new hires, but was unceremoniously canned after Dov Charney allegedly visited the store. (According to Emerson, “I am not the typical girl you think of when you think American Apparel. I am 5’10” and have what my grandmother would call good ‘birthing hips’ so there is not one clingy cotton dress that is flattering on me let alone long enough to wear in public.”)
Another former manager said she was told what kind of black women to hire during open calls: “none of the trashy kind that come in … try to find some of these classy black girls, with nice hair, you know?” The same person said she was also asked to tell two black female employees to “strop straightening their hair.” Not hiring someone because they’re not skinny enough or their African-American hair doesn’t look “right” is beyond messed-up!
Can any Frisky readers confirm or deny American Apparel’s hiring policies? Let us know in the comments.
[American Apparel Screes Employees for ‘Personal Style,’ Not ‘Beauty]
[American Apparel Has a ‘Full Body Head to Toe’ Employment Policy]
[Internal Documents Reveal Uglies Not Welcome]
[We Predict More Lawsuits in Dov Charney’s Future]
[A Former American Apparel Employee Speaks Out About Looks Discrimination]